The disgraceful scenes which marred Wednesday’s Edinburgh derby haven’t dissuaded Jimmy Dunne from staying longer at Tynecastle Park.
Dunne is currently due to return to Turf Moor on January 7 but the Hearts manager Craig Levein would like to keep him until May. The 21-year-old delivered his most commanding display yet in a maroon shirt during the midweek 0-0 draw with Hibs at Tynecastle.
Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal was hit by a Hibs fan and visiting manager Neil Lennon struck with a coin from the Hearts section during a horrific second half. Dunne, despite his youth, remained the epitome of calmness. He wasn’t fazed by the pandemonium and would still be happy to finish the season in Edinburgh.
“I would be delighted with that but I’ll leave that to them [club officials]. It would be amazing,” the Irishman admitted. “The manager told me it would be a great help to the team if I could keep being there. There’s a lot for me to learn and I’m in a great place to keep learning and educate my defending. That’s what we talk about. I’m still developing and this is a brilliant place to do it.
“What the manager said was a brilliant compliment and I’m chuffed to bits. I’m really enjoying myself here. It’s a great place and I’m in a great position. I’m just focusing on my own football and letting the other stuff work around me. Being on the pitch is the most important thing for me. Where I’m going to do that is where I want to be.”
Celtic Park tomorrow should be a less threatening environment than the one created by Wednesday’s events. It won’t necessarily be any more tranquil, though, as second-placed Celtic try to close the four-point gap between themselves and Premiership leaders Hearts.
Dunne feels ready for the occasion. He played in front of 50,000 people at Ibrox and 60,000 at Murrayfield in the last month. Those experiences helped him mature and on Wednesday night he found himself growing up instantly as the Edinburgh derby spilled out of control.
“I had never actually played in a derby before. It was definitely my first experience of something like that. It felt like World War III. That’s what football’s all about at times. Those are experiences you want to have as a player because there might even be worse derbies. I hope not, but it’s a good experience for me.
“You have to become a man straight away. You don’t have time to make excuses. You work your heart off and really focused. You can’t make excuses for being young or not being experienced.
“The more you play, the more you improve. That’s what I need now – games, games, games, big experiences and big occasions. Ibrox was the first time I’d played in front of 50,000 in a place where everyone is on top of you. It was loud and intimidating and I was probably a little bit nervy. I learned from that and I felt much happier with my performance at Murrayfield against Celtic, and again on Wednesday against Hibs.”
Dunne’s defensive partnership with Clevid Dikamona is a source of comfort to Hearts amid a mounting injury crisis. It will be a key part of their gameplan tomorrow. Christophe Berra and John Souttar are out injured until next year but their deputies have solidified to such an extent that the effect on the team has been minimal.
“You have to learn quickly but all credit to Clevid. John Souttar’s are big boots to fill, as are Christophe Berra’s. He is doing such a good job,” said Dunne, modestly. The pair retained their composure admirably as the unseemly events of Wednesday night unfolded.
“You have to just focus on the football because, no matter what’s going on around you, there are still moments in the game which can be crucial. That matters more. We’ve got quite a professional bunch of lads and they’re not going to get distracted by things like that.
“We’ve had a couple of distractions in and around the pitch this season but the lads had their heads screwed on. We were really focused on the task. The game didn’t really go our way, it was a bit scrappy and we maybe lacked a little bit of composure. We certainly learned a lesson from the game.
“The lesson was that we’re a better side than we sometimes give ourselves credit for and we were certainly a better side than Hibs on Wednesday. If we don’t play with a bit of composure then we’re not going to get the results we want. We needed to play more football. Credit to them for making it scrappy, but you could criticise us for not getting the ball on the floor.”
Playing at Celtic Park is the next step of a rapid learning curve for Dunne. His long-term plan, naturally, is to prove to watching Burnley coaches that he can handle the biggest occasions in Scotland. Then he may get a crack at forcing his way into one of the most organised defences in England’s Premier League.
Big games are coming thick and fast – which is just what the young Irishman likes.
“It’s a childhood dream. It’s been a crazy week for me individually and for the team in terms of all the fixtures. We recovered quickly after the Celtic defeat and we took positives out of Wednesday night which we will put into Saturday.
“The clean sheet is a positive. Our good defending is a positive. I think those are going to come in very useful when we go to Parkhead.”